Monday, October 17, 2016

Translation tools for children

Hello, Recently, my child's elementary school enrolled Afghan and Syrian refugee students. The school is used to Spanish speakers but has not had to handle Arabic translations before this. To help the older students during classes, the school has given them tablets and they are using Google Translate. But there are younger students (6 and 8 year olds) that cannot use this type of simultaneous translation because it is too difficult for them to type that much or that fast. Does anyone know of a translation tool for younger kids to use in the classroom that is similar to Google Translate? Thank you!

-Concerned Parent

Friday, September 2, 2016

Creating Compassionate Schools: Supporting Unaccompanied Children

© Alvarez

What is it like for an unaccompanied, undocumented child to be apprehended at the border, reunified and transitioned into the public education system?

Thus far in fiscal year 2016 alone, 43,309 Unaccompanied Alien Children (UACs) have been apprehended coming into the United States. The U.S government defines a UAC as a child who lacks immigration status, is under the age of 18, and who is present without a parent or legal guardian at the time of apprehension. Once apprehended by immigration officials or border patrol, children are placed in the care and custody of the Department of Health and Human Services; Office of Refugee Resettlement, Division of Children Services (ORR/DCS) until they are cleared to be released.

Reasons for Migration: Children migrate to the United States for many reasons including fleeing
community and gang violence and lack of educational and economic opportunities. Many cities in Central America have corrupt government, and run by local gangs (ex. MS 13, Mara 18). These gangs charge the local community and business a fee for their protection; which they have no option. and seeking family reunification. Many of these children’s parents left them in the care of grandparents and relatives so that they could migrate to the United States to be able to find employment and send remittances back home to support their children, in hopes to one day be able to send for their children to be reunited once again. For many of these children there have been a pro long separation of at times over 5-10 years since they last psychical seen their parents and or guardians. Now their caretakers are elderly and unable to care for them any longer requesting that the parents send for them.

Trauma: Can you image a child/youth traveling by foot, on top of a freight train from one country to another? That is the method of transportation that many of these children endure to flee situations of violence and insecurity and seek safety and family reunification in the United States. The journey can be traumatizing for anyone, not to mention a child. During the migration journey, many UAC often experience or witness horrendous acts of crime and violence include murder, rape, kidnapping, and extortion. Many children have to stay in the ORR facility for a prolonged period of time. Many of the children have prior mental health issues from prior history of trauma, abuse or neglect. Apprehension by immigration authorities and placement in an unfamiliar place can often further exacerbate trauma symptoms.

Post Release Services: Once these children are reunified if they are deemed to be eligible for post release services these are the services they are assisted with:
Photo courtesy of
  • School Enrollment
  • Pro-bono immigration legal services
  • Low-cost medical care
  • Access to mental health/counseling services
  • Assistance navigating community resources
  • Filing COA/COV
  • Post 18 Planning
  • Independent Living Skills 
Tips for Schools: 

  • Support students who have experienced adversity or live in crisis.
  • Provide an ongoing training, and professional development for ALL school staff with regards to this population and how to best meet their needs in the classroom. 
  • Provide a safe haven, and resources for students to be able to move from trauma to resilience. 
  • Find ways to partner with community and families to bring awareness and resources for this population. 
  • Promote awareness and introduce strategies that promote student/staff wellness. 
For more school related resources, visit:

Monday, August 29, 2016

Enrolling Refugee Children in U.S. Schools

“He doesn’t have a birth certificate.”
“You have only lived in the U.S. for a couple of months.”
“She is not the child’s legal guardian.”
“They don’t have any previous educational documents.”

For migrant families and children, one of the greatest challenges in the U.S. can be enrolling children into the local public school system. They may have trouble gathering the requested documentation, may be discouraged from enrolling due to language barriers or their age, or may be denied enrollment if their caregiver is not a parent or legal guardian. Fortunately, there are some protections for migrant children attempting to enroll in school.

All children are entitled to enroll in public schools regardless of their national origin, citizenship, or immigration status. A Dear Colleague Letter from the US Department of Education regarding school enrollment (May 8, 2014) lays out the following:
Courtesy of Catholic Charities of Tennessee

  • School districts cannot ask a student or family about their immigration status, as it is unnecessary to establish residency in a school district.
  • School districts may require proof of residency in the district, such as utility bills, lease agreements, or an affidavit, but cannot require documents that would unlawfully bar or discourage an undocumented student or a student with undocumented parents. 
  • School districts may not bar a student from enrolling if they lack a birth certificate.
  • Providing a social security number is voluntary.
  • Homeless children do not have to provide proof of residency; school districts must immediately enroll the child even if she or he doesn’t have the documents usually required.
In some cases, migrant children may be living with caregivers other than their parents. Seventeen states have consent laws which allow relative caregivers to enroll children in school. Other states do not have these laws but allow enrollment by caregivers. However, some school districts may ask for proof of guardianship or legal custody, which can have the effect of blocking a child from enrolling in school. In these situations, caregivers may work with schools to determine whether the school would accept an affidavit or other assurance of the relationship between child and caregiver. For children released from federal immigration custody, the Office of Refugee Resettlement, Division of Children’s Services (ORR/DCS) provides a Verification of Release form which includes language from the U.S. Department of Education regarding the child’s right to enroll in a public school. In some locations, the Verification of Release and ORR/DCS’s Sponsor Care Agreement may be acceptable substitutes for formal guardianship paperwork. Children and their caregivers can also be referred to their country’s nearest consular office to request assistance in obtaining documentation from their country of origin to validate identity or relationship.


In some instances, older children face an additional hurdle. Some school districts may refuse to enroll older teens or push them to adult education or GED programs. Often school districts, and sometimes even caregivers or the youth themselves, may believe that older children with limited English or prior schooling may not be able to catch up. These youths can receive, however, academic as well as non-academic benefits from being enrolled in full-time schooling: more structured and supervised hours in the classroom, tutoring help, free or reduced lunch, socialization with peers, mentoring, etc. State laws vary regarding the ages of children guaranteed schooling. The Education Commission of the States provides a state by state breakdown on age requirements as outlined in state codes. Older teens may benefit from being connected with advocates to overcome some of the barriers to school enrollment for those who are eligible based on age.

For students who arrive with incomplete or missing transcripts, policies vary greatly among states and even school districts with respect to awarding credits. Some school districts have developed forms to help “rebuild” the transcripts of foreign-born students who come without transcripts, while others will not award credits based on a student’s report of previous classes. It is best for individuals to consult with their state Department of Education if their school district does not have a policy already in place.

Below are two useful legal tools when assisting migrant families to enroll their child(ren) into a public school.

Plyler v. Doe (1982)
BRYCS Photo, Claudia Gilmore
  • Holds that States may not deny access to a basic public education to any child residing in the State, whether they are present in the in US legally or otherwise. 
McKinney-Vento Act

Ensures educational rights and protections for children and youth experiencing homelessness, and applied to all school aged children and youth.
  • The term “homeless children and youth” is defined as individuals who lack a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence….; and can include 
    • children and youths who are sharing the housing of other persons due to loss of housing, economic hardship, or a similar reason; are living in motels, hotels, trailer parks, or camping grounds due to the lack of alternative adequate accommodations; are living in emergency or transitional shelters; are abandoned in hospitals; or are awaiting foster care placement; 
    • children and youths who have a primary nighttime residence that is a public or private place not designed for or ordinarily used as a regular sleeping accommodation for human beings…
    • children and youths who are living in cars, parks, public spaces, abandoned buildings, substandard housing, bus or train stations, or similar settings; and
    • migratory children who qualify as homeless for because the children are living in circumstances described above
  • Defines an “unaccompanied youth” as a student who is not in the physical custody of a parent or guardian.
  • Some migrant children, such as those released from federal custody to a relative, may qualify for recognition under this act if they are living "doubled up" with relatives or friends. These children may benefit from recognition of their rights under this act.
The McKinney-Vento Act states that those who have been identified as “homeless children and youth” have a right to the following:
  • Immediate enrollment, even if they don't have all of their paperwork - for example, medical/health records, proof of residency, former school records, immunization records, birth certificates, proof of guardianship. The student can be enrolled in school while these records are being obtained. 
  • If a student needs to obtain immunizations or medical records, a homeless liaison should assist the student with obtaining them, and while immunizations or records are being obtained, the student should be enrolled in school. 
  • Access to all of the school's programs and services on the same basis as all other students, including special education, school nutrition programs, extracurricular activities, etc. 
  1. While legal protections exist to ensure all children, regardless of immigration status, receive an education, often migrant children and their parent/guardian need someone advocating on their behalf to ensure they are able to enroll in their local public school.
  2. Contact the homeless liaison in your school district, if you are having trouble enrolling a child or youth who falls under the McKinney-Vento definition of a “homeless child or youth” or an “unaccompanied youth.” Every school district should have a homeless liaison who should be available to assist. 
  3. The McKinney-Vento law applies to all school-aged children and youth, and does not specify an age range; therefore, if a school allows all children between the ages of 5 and 21 the right to attend school, a child identified as a “homeless child or youth” or an “unaccompanied youth” have the right to attend school up until the age stated in the law. 
  4. Encourage and advocate for parents, guardians, and sponsors to request and have school meetings in their preferred language.

This month's guest blogger: Margaret MacDonnell, BRYCS Consultant

Thursday, August 25, 2016

To Speak or Not to Speak about Past Trauma: Shifting the Focus to the Present Impacts of Current Events and Assimilation on Immigrant Children

When should we talk with a child about their past experiences with war or mass violence? Why?

In my lifetime, I’ve experienced three wars with Iraq. From my earliest memories until we left Tehran when I was seven, I woke up to citywide alarms and bombings. We had to take cover in the basement of our tall apartment building or stayed uptown at my aunt’s home, where it was supposed to be safer. Later, in the United States in 1991, I watched the televised news reports and my peers’ reactions to the Gulf War. And then in 2003 after graduate school, it began again in the aftermath of September 11.

Unable to imagine war, whenever my American friends and fellow mental health specialists find out about my exposure to war, they quickly conclude it must have had some effect on me. I’m not sure whether I’m damaged or exotic. And I imagine their questioning and awe helps with their own need to process war. It really is amazing that we are all safe and free to live happily in a society that has not experienced war in its continental borders for over 150 years.

As a mental health professional, I know it is important to talk through scary memories. Talking about memories can be helpful in reducing their intensity or make meaning from scary events. But talking will not actually eliminate the memories. I still get nervous when I hear helicopters at night hovering overhead. I live near embassies where there is higher air traffic; yet I still have to tell myself they are not war planes.

But so what? Everyone has been or will be impacted by frightening or disturbing events at some point in their life. And talking about the memories doesn’t actually address the current real life struggles, stressors, or new potential dangers in this “safe” land.

What else should we be talking about? What about present dangers and reminders of the past?

At School
Interestingly, no one ever asked me about any difficulties growing up in the United States. No one knew, not even my parents, whenever I was harassed by my peers, and even worse, by teachers. Even years after the end of the Gulf War, peers told me to ‘Go back to Iraq!’ Once a high school World History teacher approached me from behind, grabbed my backpack, and asked while laughing “Is there a bomb in there?”

Furthermore, no one ever differentiated for me that all kids, whether an immigrant or not, struggle in school at some point. Some of the events that I experienced, such as teasing, American children could relate to. And my parents were also experiencing their own challenges related to acculturation while trying to fit in at work and integrate into the community. Always looking and being from somewhere different, a certain level of normalization would have been more comforting than a discussion of war that further set me apart from my peers.

In the News and Social Media
In elementary school, I watched my peers’ reactions to the Gulf War. While I was excited that my friends finally learned where Iraq and Iran are, I was further embarrassed with the new associations. Fortunately, I grew up in the United States at a time when the media communicated the news much differently. News was broadcast four times during the day, 24-hour news channels on cable didn’t exist, and there was no social media. It felt like a much safer time; maybe because we were protected from repetitive exposure to viewing toxic trauma stories (highly emotionally arousing stories with no resolution)1

BRYCS Photo / Courtesy of CSS Anchorage
Now in the age of digital communication, we are repetitively informed and alerted that we live in times of mass shootings, regular events of terrorism, and ongoing mass migration of people fleeing war and seeking refuge. Despite increased security, places all around the world that appeared safe before, could be attacked at any time. And up until last summer, cable news channels were still talking about a potential war with Iran. 

Exposure to videos and repetitive clips of violence on the news and social media can be disturbing for both children and their parents. Additionally, they may be learning about disturbing events still occurring in their home country and or countries of refuge. Immigrants can harbor guilt for having survived and left their families and friends behind.

It is important that parents and providers make opportunities to connect to children’s and youth’s experiences and struggles at school and in the community. Explore the presence of problems with other students, bullies, and teachers. Inquire from children and youth what they’ve seen on the news and social media. Ask them if it reminds them of anything. Ask about their fears. When parents monitor social media, in addition to monitoring for inappropriate content, warn them to look for any exposure to disturbing current events. Encourage parents to talk to their children and help them process acts of mass violence (war, terrorism, mass shootings). If you do chose to speak about past trauma, try to explore it in the context of the impact on the present.

Finally, we should honor an immigrant’s decision to not talk about the past. People shut down or they may need to forget a certain part of their lives—this is a valuable coping skill. Human beings are highly adaptable; only a tiny percent get and remain “traumatized”. And never forget that helping others with sad, scary or angry stories requires helpers to take care of themselves so they can continue to help others heal and flourish.

A webinar follows and will focus on learning and responding to a child’s current difficulties and impact of past trauma stories. We welcome your questions and comments below on interventions with immigrant children and parents on addressing impacts of current events and assimilation.

This month's guest blogger: Goli Amin Bellinger, MSW, LICSW, University of Maryland Baltimore, School of Social Work

1.  Mollica, Richard F. (2006). Healing invisible wounds: Paths to hope and recovery in a violent world. Orlando, Florida: Harcourt.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Unaccompanied Children: Factors in Successful Integration

Courtesy of CC of Tennessee
Unaccompanied children (UC) who have been migrating from El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala to the United States for years, were largely unnoticed by the general population until this phenomenon captured our nation’s attention in the summer of 2014. That year, the number of unaccompanied children that showed up at the US – Mexico border reached approximately 68,000 – a 75% increase from the year before. Since then, the number of UC’s apprehended at the border has decreased, however, the flow of migration of these children – escaping targeted and generalized gang violence, domestic abuse, and economic disparity – is steady and not showing signs of stopping any time soon. Their presence in the U.S. sparked our curiosity about what it’s like to be an unaccompanied youth integrating into a local community.

From an empirical standpoint, little is known about what factors impact their successful integration. Additionally, very little research has been done on this topic from the perspective of youth. We believe their voice matters most, therefore we conducted a research analysis highlighting the youth’s perspective, along with their caregivers and case managers, to help gain a better understanding about what helps UCs adjust and integrate.

USCCB/MRS staff used both qualitative and quantitative research techniques to gather data. Former UC youth, caregivers, and case managers connected to FC and FR programs participated in interviews. Subsequently, surveys were developed to gather quantitative data in line with the emergent themes, and the data was analyzed for trends related to each theme. The interviews and surveys focused on topics related to community, activities, safety, adjustment, youth goals, legal services, aspects of caregiving, and the role of case managers.

In our research, youth reported repeatedly that their legal immigration status in the United States has a significant impact on their ability to integrate into communities. One of the most significant challenges a lack of legal status brings to the youth is the stigma and fear of deportation that impede on their daily lives. Simple activities like walking down the street to school can be clouded with the fear of deportation. Other challenges commonly expressed from youth, caregivers, and case managers include cost and difficulties in obtaining legal representation, the extended length of time it takes for their case to process through Immigration Courts, and the confusion of the process itself. One case manager commented on the impact of UC’s not having legal counsel: “If they don’t have the money it’s hard for them. Even though they may qualify [for a legal status] they won’t get it because they don’t have an attorney and they can’t afford it.” Unaccompanied children are faced with the reality that no matter their actual need for protection, remaining legally in the United States and finding protection is often contingent upon having an attorney. Consequently, when youth obtain a legal status, it is a significant factor in successfully integrating into the U.S.; “It’s definitely a sigh of relief. You may see a youth who was hunched over a little, and now they are standing straight because they know ‘I’m here, I’m legally here.’”

Community Setting
As the environment in which youth reside, access services, and interact with peers and adults, the community setting is an important context for the process of integration. As several reports[1] have demonstrated, these youth are fleeing generalized violence and the threat of gangs. When reflecting back on her initial move, one youth shared: “At first, I thought, since it’s a big state, that it was going to be violent and full of gangs, but then I realized it has many good things.” The importance of being able to freely walk the streets or through their own choices to avoid dangerous situations was an important difference about life in their new communities. Basic needs, such as safety, accessible medical and mental health services, and the opportunity to find support among peers or their ethnic community were highlighted in interviews as a foundation for youth to transition from survival to success.

Everyone we interviewed spoke to the crucial role of the school setting in assisting or hindering a youth’s integration. One case worker stated it is the “key player” in integration due to the amount of time youth spend in school. This is the space in which they learn, not just academics, but social skills and cultural norms and create relationships with both peers and academic professionals. Case workers reported that schools that were accommodating to UC and their needs had a correlation on youth doing well in school. One notable way schools met the needs of UC youth was by initiating English as a Second Language (ESL) programs tailored to the needs to the youth. In instances when a youth finds a particular subject or area difficult, the case worker will tell them, “You took a 3,000 mile journey, this is easier than that!” They reported that this helps the youth put things into perspective. The educational setting also helps these youth because of the relationships they are able to create with peers and teachers. Caregivers also recognize the importance of youth attending school and the opportunities it brings. One sponsor said, “…I want her to continue studying. She only needs a little more to finish her schooling. In our country she wasn’t studying, but here she can do this for herself.”

Case Management
Case managers also play a critical role in fostering successful integration of youth into communities. They are often the gateway to various needed services that meet the immediate needs of the youth and their families and act as advocates on behalf of the youth. While we went into this study focused on the role of the case manager with the youth, interviews exposed the importance of the role they play with the caregiver as well. Case managers that were culturally competent and accessible appeared to have the most impact. Care givers and youth noted how helpful they are as they provide of tools for empowerment and act as resource and cultural brokers. One caregiver noted about their case manager, “The most important thing that [a case worker] has done for my children is, well, everything. They recommended the doctors, counselors, attorneys. [The case worker] has been there with us.” The support the case manager provides to the UC and their family has a considerable impact on the lives of families and often guides youth to move towards successful integration.

Family and Relational Support
The centrality of relational and family support in the lives in unaccompanied children cannot likely be overstated. The role of competent caregivers, supportive adults, and positive peers are foundational to the development of all children and youth. The fact that these children have experienced separation from their parents for any period of their lives only underscores the importance of a safe and loving home environment in which they can process past trauma and begin the work of adjusting to a new country and way of life.

Two quotes from youth demonstrate the importance of home life from different perspectives. The first said, “In my opinion if there isn’t any peace in the home, people, including me, think ‘I don’t want to go home, I want to be somewhere else’ and you are constantly thinking this all day even while you’re in school, and that’s all you think about.” And another described, “I’ll talk to my foster mom and I’ll ask her ‘What do you think of this?’ She’ll say, ‘I think that is a good idea!’, or ‘I don’t think that’s a good way to look at it.’ […] Just knowing that there is someone supporting me, that I am not alone in all of this, that there is one place in this world where my opinion matters, my voice matters, and that I mean something to someone - that helps me a lot.”

Youth Strengths
Throughout all the interviews with case managers, caregivers, and program management, one common word was continuously used to describe unaccompanied youth: Resilient. While research on the resiliency of the forced migrant is not new, the focus of this study was to assess specifically which strategies unaccompanied youth are utilizing in order to cope with their new life in the U.S. They are enrolled in school and they are giving back to their community. In regards to the strengths that they possess, we found that youth are utilizing positive coping skills, have goals they would like to achieve, have gained self-awareness, and are vested in helping others, either in their home country or in their communities in the U.S. One interviewed youth stated, “My dream, when I was in El Salvador, was to hold a high school diploma in my hands. I was never able to accomplish it. So now that I am here, I’ve talked to my counselors and they told me that I could study and that the program was going to help me. Then I was like, ‘I want a career!’ This opportunity changed my dreams. I want to study, I want to finish high school, I want to go to college, and I want to have a career…I want to teach, I want to be a music teacher....It makes me really happy to know that there are people that support me and believe I can achieve it all, and I CAN achieve it all!”

The process of integrating into the U.S. is daunting and confusing; however, regardless of which program services unaccompanied youth, all deserve to have their needs heard and to have case workers that can be an advocate for them. As USCCB/MRS continues to offer programing to UCs and as UCs continue to be placed with sponsors or foster care providers in the United States, we hope this research can help inform our work with this population and become a springboard for further research.

[1] Mission to Central America: The Flight of Unaccompanied Children to the United States , < >; Children on the Run: Unaccompanied Children Leaving Central America and Mexico and the Need for International Protection < >; No Childhood Here: Why Central American Children are Fleeing Their Homes, < >; A Treacherous Journey: Child Migrants Navigating the U.S. Immigration System < >

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Muslim Refugee Youth: Stories & Strategies Addressing Discrimination & Bullying

Working in refugee resettlement, you always hear about the refugees that arrive to the United States with nothing but the clothes on their back. Despite having worked in the field for several years, I hadn’t yet come across this. There was nothing to shake my assumption that everyone came with at least one worn-out suitcase with old t-shirts and jeans, neatly folded, and maybe a memento tethering them to someone they loved (perhaps either a token from their childhood home before fleeing or the last remnants of a tearful goodbye. If they were really lucky, I thought, maybe they had both.)

Photo via Fedasil
I assumed that the notion of a young refugee arriving alone with no possessions whatsoever persisted in our lexicon because it was symbolic of how much young refugees leave behind- their family, friends, homes, neighborhoods, countries, their childhood- things that could never fit in a suitcase anyways. That was until I met Ali.[1] After days of travel across several continents, at only 15 years old, he arrived alone at a Washington, DC airport with nothing but the clothes on his back. His only carry-on was a white plastic bag with the now unmistakable blue IOM [2] logo plastered across it that held his legal documents -- the only hard proof he had of his existence.

There were two moments in particular from our initial meetings that I will never forget. The first was when he confided that he had been so scared on his journey but was hopeful that things would get better and that he would be happier here. I learned that both his parents and his siblings had been killed; with some right in front of him and others he only heard about later. He fled across multiple countries, and like all the other refugees who lack proper immigration documents; he largely stayed under the radar, praying for invisibility -- secretly grateful that at least his fear could provide him a distraction from his grief.

The second moment was when he turned to me and whispered, “How are things here for Muslims? Is it safe?” That’s the question that motivates much of the work we do at the International Cultural Center’s (ICC) Crossroads Program, where I serve as the Program Director. Our program works with Middle Eastern, South Asian, North/West/East African youth and their families in Montgomery County, Maryland. Most of our clients are refugees, asylum seekers and recent immigrants impacted by trauma, chronic stress, acculturation challenges, social isolation, discrimination and financial hardship. ICC Crossroads provides free clinical mental health counseling, case management and positive youth development programming, including mentoring and skill-building groups and workshops.

Discrimination / Bullying of Muslim Youth

Muslim refugee youth, a growing demographic, face a trifecta of concerns- mental health challenges, acculturation stress, and discrimination/bullying. None of these can be examined in a vacuum. They all co-mingle not only with each other, but also with the “normal” developmental struggles of navigating adolescence.

In partnership with the Islamic Center of Maryland and the Haneefiya Learning Center, we surveyed 110 Muslim students and discovered the following about bullying and discrimination [3]: 
  • 1 in 5 students felt intimidated, harassed, humiliated, bullied, or emotionally/physically abused by classmates because they are Muslim. Note: This increases to 1 in 4 when considering only male students.
  • 10% of students felt like a teacher or school administrator has treated them unfairly because they are Muslim. 
  • 8% of students felt that their classmates or teachers treated them differently because they wear traditional Islamic symbols (e.g. hijab, prayer hat, or other religious symbols). Note: Muslim girls felt three times more likely than young men to be treated differently. 
  • 15% of students felt isolated or excluded from social situations because they are Muslim.
Photo courtesy of ICC
These numbers are startling but by no means surprising. If anything, they are under-reported and fail to capture the pervasive subtlety yet ubiquity of bullying today.

One of the ways in which we address these challenges, is through the Global Citizen Forum, a youth leadership development program we developed in a number of local high schools and community centers. As part of the program, Muslim students share their experiences, build solidarity with their peers and acquire the skills they need to address bullying on individual and community levels. Many have stories of offensive comments made by other students in class, unaddressed by teachers, who are unprepared for a longer conversation about Muslims or Islam. Many students have stories of offensive comments coming from teachers themselves, even from the ones they’d least expect. One student recounted how she felt isolated and stigmatized when a magazine with the cover story, “When Jihadists Pose as Suburban Parents” was handed out in class shortly after the tragic shootings in San Bernardino, California.

The effects of bullying and discrimination often extend beyond the school community. One student shared a story of walking home from school when a motorist in a passing truck screamed at her yelling racial slurs. Terrified, she ran the rest of the way home, not stopping until the door closed behind her. Another described her fears that something could happen to her mom, who wore hijab and thus was less able to “pass” as a non-Muslim in public. Her mom told her not to worry though because she’s prepared; when she gets out of the car to fill her gas, she keeps a hat on hand to cover up her hijab to avoid opening herself up to harassment. Unfortunately, her constant refrain of “everything will be ok” offers little comfort to her daughter. After watching news reports of calls to ban Muslim immigrants from entering the United States and of armed protests in front of mosques, one student shared how at the dinner table, her family discussed an evacuation plan. She noted that if discrimination turned violent, they would gather their belongings, and drive to the Canadian border to seek asylum because they no longer felt safe in their own country.
Thinking back to Ali and other Muslim refugee youth, these incidents can be re-traumatizing and trigger feelings of deep fear on a daily basis. One young refugee who was proud of his dual American and Middle Eastern identity shared a story of being called a terrorist and being told to, “go back to where you came from.” For him, going “back to where he came from” wasn’t an option. Ironically, he saw the worst of terrorism in his home country and just barely got out alive.


Service providers need to support students like Ali in meeting these challenges by providing targeted programs including: 
  • Safe reporting mechanisms for redressing student complaints of bullying or harassment
  • Cultural competency trainings for teachers, counselors, and school staff 
  • Trainings to recognize warning signs of students who may be affected by bullying and provide supportive environments  
  • Extracurricular activities and youth groups that foster positive youth connections, and train peer advocates to become upstanders 
  • Skill-building youth workshops and groups that raise awareness of bullying and promote positive coping skills and resiliency
Photo courtesy of ICC
To provide you with an example, ICC Crossroads in partnership with the Gaithersburg Beloved Community Initiative, recently hosted a skill-building workshop for youth in April 2016. The program brought together Muslim youth and a diverse group of elderly adults to address anti-Muslim rhetoric today. Adult participants included those who lived in Japanese internment camps, fled Nazi Europe and had been active in the U.S. Civil Rights Movement. One Muslim-American student shared a story of being called a terrorist and having her hijab torn off her head, while one Japanese-American adult shared her story of being called racial slurs and having to be forcibly removed from her home and placed in an internment camp. The youth and adults traded stories and strategies for individual and community empowerment. More inter-generational, cross-cultural events like this, which address our sorrows and our immense strengths, are needed.

These recommendations and strategies will be explored further in an upcoming webinar this summer and an online learning module this fall, which ICC Crossroads is hosting in partnership with BRYCS.

[1] Names and other identifying details have been altered to protect privacy. The story of “Ali” contains elements of various individuals that we have worked with over the years.
[2] International Organization for Migration

This month's guest blogger: Nouf Bazaz, Crossroads Director, International Cultural Center